Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: School food

Salad bars in the nation's salad bowl


Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) met with elementary school kids and officials in Salinas today to talk about getting more fresh fruits and vegetables served in schools.

Farr's office says he'll introduce legislation next month that would get school districts buying more produce through the commodity program they now use to buy food for school breakfast and lunch through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His spokesman, Tom Mentzer, says the bill would direct $50 million a year from the commodity program for fresh produce.

The Jesse G. Sanchez Elementary School, for students in kindergarten through third grade, has a salad bar, and used stimulus funds to buy refrigerators for storing produce, says Lorelei DiSogra, vice president for nutrition and health of industry group United Fresh Produce Assn., who also was at the school today.

Salad bars, Mentzer says, "are one of the best tools to get kids to eat fresh vegetables."

"Children learn about the food pyramid, but for years schools have failed to provide enough fresh fruits and vegetables," Farr said in a statement. "Last year's Farm Bill, which provides $1.2 billion to expand the fruit and vegetable snack program nationwide, is the first significant sign that priorities are changing."

And while children learn in school that they should eat lots of fruits and vegetables, they don't get enough of them to eat, he says.

Farr's legislation is one of several concerning childhood nutrition that will be considered as Congress looks toward reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act later this year.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: The salad bar at Jesse G. Sanchez, with some costumed teachers and staff. Credit: United Fresh Produce Assn.

It's time for lunch -- school lunch, that is

SchoollunchThirty million children eat school lunch every day. A pretty big captive audience, and plenty of healthy-food advocates want to see some changes in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

So what do food people do when they want to make a statement? They do it with food, naturally. Slow Food USA has organized "Time for Lunch," a campaign to draw attention to school food. Around the country, almost 270 pot luck "eat-ins" are planned on Sept. 7, in schools, community gardens, parks, homes and other spots. One goal is to get 20,000 people to sign a petition to the federal government asking for changes in the school food programs.

“We want to tell the story of America coming together to demand food that’s good for their kids,” said Slow Food’s president, Josh Viertel.

For Viertel and others, that means more fresh fruits and vegetables and more federal money for schools to buy food -- many child nutrition advocates would like to see $1 a day per child more -- reimbursements are now less than $3 for each free lunch a cafeteria serves.

One of the Los Angeles events will be at 4 p.m. at Fancifull Fine Food and Baskets, on Melrose Avenue near Larchmont. Computers will be available for people to sign the Slow Food petition, and there will be cooking demonstrations for children by Homegirl Cafe. People are asked to bring a dish to share.

Other eat-ins are planned in Elysian Park, Culver City, Highland Park and elsewhere around L.A.

Many educators now see the cafeteria as a part of a child’s learning, and food services officials are listening to students’ opinions about food they’re served, said Matt Sharp of California Food Policy Advocates. And decision-makers are tying what kids eat at school to their long-term health and to the costs of treating conditions associated with obesity, including high blood pressure and diabetes.

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What's in that school lunch? Fruit as well as fries


Guess what’s in the top five foods kids eat from the school cafeteria. Not French fries and not pizza. Fruit, which comes in at No. 3, and vegetables, No. 5.

The NPD Group, a consumer research company, came up with the top 10 foods children ages 6 to 12 eat from the cafeteria and the top 10 they eat in lunches they bring from home – and released the results just as millions of parents hand over responsibility to schools for feeding their children lunch – and sometimes breakfast, says Harry Balzer, NPD vice president. He has studied American eating habits for more than a quarter of a century.

Thirty million school lunches are served every day in U.S. public schools. Of children ages 6 to 12, 28% bring their lunch to school, according to NPD.

Topping the school-provided foods is milk. Balzer says he was surprised to learn that half of that is chocolate milk. “Is that good or bad? I don’t know,” he says.

“It says to me that taste is so important,” Balzer says.

And the rest of the list: sandwiches, fruit, fruit drinks, vegetables, pizza, chicken, French fries, fruit salad and cookies. There was no breakdown in the items, so, for example, chicken would include nuggets as well as other preparations.

So, how does the fare provided by mom and dad compare? The list for lunches brought from home: sandwiches, fruit, salty snacks, fruit drinks, cookies, milk, vegetables, fruit snacks, yogurt and crackers.

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Whole Foods, Ann Cooper hope to reform school cafeterias


Whole Foods is partnering with Ann Cooper, who helped reform the school food program in Berkeley, to help other schools improve what they serve to the 30 million children who eat school lunches in the U.S.

By launching the project just before millions of children return to school, Whole Foods hopes to capture the attention of families -- as well as of Congress, which is slated to consider school food and other nutrition programs when it works on reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act.

"The time is right to say, 'Hey, there is something you can do ... right here and right now," Walter Robb, co-president of Whole Foods Market, said in a telephone interview.

Robb says that food should be part of the health reform conversation, not just obesity and its related diseases, such as diabetes.

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Getting trans fat out of school vending machines

Cafeteria On Wednesday, a state law goes into effect that bans food containing trans fats from being sold at schools in vending machines and by outside contractors. The bill was signed into law two years ago but gave schools and vendors time to prepare for it.

“A poorly nourished child often makes a poor student who can’t concentrate or study well,” said Sen. Elaine K. Alquist (D-Santa Clara), the author of the bill, SB 490.

A separate legislative effort covers school cafeteria food.

Trans fats can be found in vegetable shortenings, cookies, crackers, pies and other foods made with, or fried in, partially hydrogenated oils.

Trans fats have been linked to heart disease. Many restaurants and food manufacturers have eliminated them in response to consumer demand or legislation.

California law requires restaurants to use fats with less than half a gram of trans fats per serving by Jan. 1, 2010; the standard will apply to deep-fried bakery goods a year later.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Meal time at Cesar Chavez Elementary. Photo by Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times



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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.